As I suspect is the way with many young girls in Scotland, I was originally taught to knit by my Granny around the age of five. We sat side by side on the couch in her small, cosy living room whilst she patiently took me through the motions of the knit stitch. It was just one activity of many offered in attempt to entertain an only child as the painstakingly long days of the summer holidays stretched out ahead of us both.
I churned out simple garter stitch squares in cheap acrylic from the local yarn shop, Granny knitting alongside me; until, eventually, we had enough squares between us for a patchwork blanket.
From this, I progressed to knitted rectangles with a single button hole which would be passed to Granny for the sides to be sewn up and a button attached, creating a basic coin purse. By the end of the summer I had a whole stack of purses; but that was the extent of my five-year old patience for knitting.
The school holidays came to an end, and my attention turned to the next 90s playground fad.
I was 21 when I picked up knitting again.
I’d just graduated from university and returned to Scotland after six months of working in New York. I was penniless and back living with my parents in my home town; and it was at that low point in my life that I felt an urge to start knitting. I was taken back to the feeling of my five-year old self, in need of some pastime to fill the long dark winter nights spent sitting at my parents’ house in a dead-end town, to which there seemed to be no end in sight.
I returned to the same local yarn shop from my childhood, feeling out of place as I cluelessly examined the rows of yarn whilst the elderly man behind the counter watched my every move. Much like the man, the shop looked tired and faded, like it had been there forever; and a faint musty smell hung in the air. I was the only customer.
Although the yarn selection was relatively limited, I had no idea what to choose: DK? Worsted? Aran? Which needles? Starting to feel like I was lingering too long, I hastily chose a chunky yarn (it was the nicest colour) and, after an awkward exchange in which the man behind the counter kindly asked – was I planning to knit that chunky wool with those 3mm needles, and would I perhaps prefer these 6mm ones? – I left the shop with my first knitting purchase, thanking the man for his advice on my way out and smiling as I walked down the street.
This was my first experience of the friendly knitter community, and I remember being surprised at finding such willing help and kindness in this stuck-in-time haberdashery tucked away in an unremarkable corner of Fife.
Back at home, I sat cross-legged on the floor of my childhood bedroom and rediscovered my love of knitting. With 15 years having passed since I first learned to knit, I went back to the basics and started again with garter stitch squares; but to my surprise, I found that the memory of knitting had never really left me and my fingers followed the familiar, repetitive patterns with ease.
Before long I was purling, increasing, decreasing, knitting in the round, and stumbling my way through the foreign language of knitting patterns; always exploring and eager to learn more.
At a time when I felt stuck at a dead-end and my life was, for want of a better word, just plain boring, knitting gave me a sense of purpose. It was something to focus on, and the act of creating something beautiful and practical with my own two hands gave me a feeling of accomplishment that wasn’t present elsewhere in my life. The comfort of feeling the soft fibres of the yarn passing through my fingers; the repetitive motion of row after row of knits and purls… It made me feel content and gave me a welcome escape from the mundane day to day life that I was trapped in.
Unlike my five-year old self, when things got better and I had other things going on in my life, I didn’t drop the knitting.
By the time I was back on my feet and ready to leave my home town again, this time moving to Aberdeen to be with my now-husband and with a good job offer waiting for me, I had become so entangled in the vast world of knitting that it didn’t occur to me to stop. I had amassed the obligatory excessive yarn collection; my stash overflowing from its assigned box into bags, cupboards and under beds. I felt drawn to yarn shops wherever I went, driven by an impulsive need to find foreign yarn and knitters in their natural habitat. I had long overcome any hesitation about knitting in public; happily getting my needles out on the bus, in the pub, at the airport, and even once in a tattoo shop. I had shooed my cat away as he clawed at my yarn; neglecting his furry companionship in favour of knitting those last few rounds.
In short: I was a knitter.